Fitness: How to get your kids excited about staying active
- April 28, 2010 9:37 AM |
- By Your Voice
When it comes to staying active and keeping fit, how do you think Canadian kids measure up? According to a recent report by Active Healthy Kids Canada, not so well.
In its sixth annual report card, the organization gave Canadian kids an F for physical activity levels for the fourth consecutive year. The report card suggests only 12 per cent of Canadian children and youth are getting the 90 minutes recommended for daily physical activity.
Meanwhile, young people are continuing to devote considerable time to video games, computers and TV, accumulating six hours of screen time on weekdays and more than seven hours on weekend days, the report says.
And all those hours logged on the couch are leading to rising obesity rates. National data indicate that 15.2 per cent of two- to five-year-olds are overweight, and 6.3 per cent are obese.
So how can you get your kids excited about exercise? What are some simple strategies for encouraging physical activity?
We've assembled a panel of fitness gurus to answer your questions on how to keep kids healthy. Leave your questions below and check back to see what the experts have to say.
Carole Carson is a health and fitness author whose own personal battle with health inspired her recent book, From Fat to Fit. The Wall Street Journal has called her an "Apostle for fitness," and her tips on staying active have inspired many.
Carole offers this advice on getting kids interested in exercise. "Whether you're a teacher, parent, grandparent or family friend, invite the children in your life to play with you outdoors. For example, you can play dodge ball, skip rope or walk around the neighborhood spotting items that begin with the letters of the alphabet. Whatever you do, have fun! And, as a wonderful byproduct, get some exercise for yourself," says Carson.
Kelly Murumets is president and CEO of ParticipAction, the national voice of physical activity and sport participation in Canada. ParticipAction has been an iconic Canadian brand since 1971 and was relaunched under Kelly's leadership in 2007.
Kelly's number one tip to get youngsters moving more is to let them play! "Active play is fun, but it's certainly not frivolous. In fact, it's critical for the healthy development of children, as it gets them moving, and helps build social skills, imaginations and self-esteem," she says.
Paul Plakas has been a personal trainer for 20 years. He has trained every level of fitness from homemaker to professional athlete and has worked on several weight loss documentaries.
Paul's main tip for getting your children to particpate in fitness is to, "find an activity they absolutely love to do and participate in it with them."
Here's what the team had to say about childhood fitness.
What is the best way for parents to get kids engaged in physical activity?
Carson: The single most important way parents can get their kids engaged in physical activity is to be a role model. Both parents and children need to incorporate movement into their daily lives. Playing outdoors, weather and safety permitting, should be part of your daily routine. Community sports programs are also an excellent way to promote exercise. If your kids aren't competitive, consider enrolling them in dance, swim, martial arts or gymnastic classes. You could also mount a basketball hoop over your garage door. Plan vacations around exercise opportunities, such as camping by a lake.
Murumets: The best way for parents to get kids engaged in physical activity is to make it a part of your everyday family life. Physical activity comes in many forms, from walking to the store, to hiking through a local conservation area, to raking the lawn. While organized sports and clubs, such as hockey teams or dance lessons, are great opportunities to expose your kids to physical activity, there are plenty of other ways to build more movement into your day. Try regular walks after dinner, biking or walking to and from school or kicking a ball around in the park. If your family's choice becomes the "active choice," then you won't have to try so hard to get moving more -- it will just become a part of who you are.
Plakas: The key is to find an activity that kids enjoy to do. This is the only way to keep their interest. An activity that they find easy to perform also helps. Games like tennis have a large learning curve and kids may get frustrated learning the sport. A sport like soccer is easier. You just have to run around and kick a ball.
What are some inexpensive activities kids can get involved in to stay fit?
- Play hide and seek, dodge ball or other games outdoors.
- Go on a treasure hunt.
- Ride a bike.
- Play hopscotch.
- Jump rope.
- Swim at a local pool.
- Play with a Hula-Hoop.
- Go to a public playground.
Murumets: Any activity that gets your child running around, moving his or her muscles and using his or her body will help your child stay fit. Unstructured active play, such as tackling the local jungle gym structure at the park, playing leap frog or making up a dance routine with friends are all examples of physical activities that don't include a registration free. Sport and organized physical activity programs are also a great way to teach your kids basic skills, make friends and get exposed to a range of physical activity opportunities that he or she may love. Many local school boards, YMCAs, recreation and community centres offer inexpensive classes and teams for families and kids, including "try-it days" and "multi-sport" programs that include a range of sports and activities all in one. Plus, you can encourage your child to join a club or team at school.
Plakas: When I was a kid I spent time playing games like hide and seek, tag or kick ball with my friends in the neighbourhood. It was some of the greatest moments I have growing up. Everything we did was made up on the spot and cost nothing. Kids have a great imagination they will figure it out if given a chance. The key is to create an environment for this imagination to flourish. Making time and arranging with other parents an opportunity for kids to play together in a safe environment is the key to inexpensive fitness.
At what age should exercise be introduced?
Carson: Movement is a normal part of everyday life for all of us, whatever our age. Infants and toddlers are constantly learning new motor skills, and structured exercise is not needed. An ample amount of unstructured playtime should be incorporated into pre-school children's routines. By the time children reach elementary school, 15 minute segments of organized physical activities are appropriate. The goal should be a minimum of one hour of exercise by the time your child reaches elementary school age and thereafter.
Murumets: When we're talking about getting our children fit and healthy, it's time we replace the word "exercise" with "physical activity." While it doesn't make sense for your toddler to climb on a treadmill or join an aerobics class, they're never too young to move around and explore their physical environment. Free, unstructured play, such as collecting sticks, rolling a ball or running around the park should be happening as much as possible in the early years. Active play helps kids learn how to win and lose, develop imaginations and self-esteem, and is essential for healthy development. Kids have a natural inclination to move, so encourage exploration and curiosity, and limit sedentary activities like watching television and playing video games. Parents can stop thinking about how to get their youngsters to exercise, and start thinking about encouraging them move more.
Plakas: Play is what kids should do for exercise up to age 14. Sports and games should be the focus for children to exercise. This should start from day one. After age 14 a more structured workout program can follow. Weight training can be introduced with moderate loads. About 60-70% of one rep max loads. After age 16 children can try a more strength-building workout.
What activities are appropriate for pre-schoolers, middle-school kids and teens?
Murumets: According to the 2010 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card, the foundations of an active lifestyle must start in the early years because lifestyle habits set before the age of five predict health and obesity outcomes in later childhood and even into adulthood. With toddlers, you can try playing tickle tag, taking the long way home, dancing to music and getting outside for playtime. For preschoolers, you can try active play dates that include running through a sprinkler or kicking balls in the park, games of make believe, jumping and crawling with sidewalk chalk or leaving the car at home for short trips. For middle-schoolers, encourage active time with friends, joining school clubs or teams, and fostering independence by allowing them to walk short distances to the local library or community centre. For teens, try encouraging volunteer or part-time work placements that require physical activity (like summer camps or a warehouse job), supporting them to try a new club, sport or dance troupe with friends, or suggest they try coaching, refereeing or mentoring some younger kids or siblings in a sport or activity.
From Facebook, member Catharine Saunders Bates asks: When I suggested dance lessons as a fun way to stay fit, someone brought up the valid point that lessons through a private dance studio are not affordable for everyone. This is a barrier for organized sports as well. So, could you suggest some free or very inexpensive physical activities?
Murumets: Thanks for your question, Catharine. Free or very inexpensive physical activities are everywhere! The Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card indicates that most Canadians have physical activity and recreation facilities nearby and accessible to them. However, less than half of Canadian children and youth use the physical activity amenities available to them. There are parks, playgrounds and walking trails everywhere in Canada, as well as schools, community centres, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs and other facilities that offer affordable access to physical activity opportunities. Even in a dense urban environment, we're lucky to have sidewalks, so try to find opportunities for your family to use them. Active transportation, or getting around with "people power," is one of the easiest ways to get more physical activity into your family's day -- and it's free!
Plakas: For free inexpensive activities I recommend building an obstacle course in the backyard. Using old tires, saw horses, hula hoops, boxes cut out to crawl through etc. Use your imagination. Your kids can invite their friends over and challenge each other to get through the course. It can be competitive for time or just for fun. You will find your kids wanting to change the course with their own ideas.
From Facebook, member Darlene Gray asks: How do I get myself excited about staying fit?
Murumets: One of the best ways to make physical activity part of your family's life is to find something that you enjoy. You don't have to join a gym to get active, and there are plenty of ways to build more healthy activity into your life. How about trying something new, like yoga or fencing? How about volunteering at your local animal shelter to walk the dogs? How about meeting friends for a night of dancing? Or making it a daily goal to walk or wheel a new route home from your work place, school or transit stop? If you're still looking for a push, know that getting active with a friend can give you excellent motivation. Research shows that social support is positively associated with increased physical activity--and can be lots of fun. Remember, the goal is: just move more!
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